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HomeArts & CultureCleveland Museum of Art Returns 2,200-Year-Old Statue to Libya

Cleveland Museum of Art Returns 2,200-Year-Old Statue to Libya

The Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) will transfer ownership of a 2,200-year-old Ptolemaic statue to Libya, as announced today, May 29, in a press release issued jointly with the Libyan Department of Antiquities. The work will remain at the CMA for several years on loan.

The museum attributed the decision to “new information” from the Department of Antiquities and its own research. Todd Mesek, chief marketing officer at CMA, said Hyperallergic that Libyan authorities contacted the museum late last year asking the CMA to acknowledge that the “Statue of a Man” had been stolen from the country’s Ptolemaide Museum during World War II. Mesek said the CMA found a record from 1950 noting that the artifact was discovered in excavations from 1937 to 1939, but was probably lost in 1941, when the Ptolemaida Museum was destroyed during the British occupation. According to the CMA’s list of objects, the sculpture was in Lucerne, Switzerland, in 1960 and entered the collection of Lawrence and Barbara Fleischman in New York in 1966. In 1991, the couple donated the artifact to the CMA.

“Our colleagues in Libya have helped clarify our understanding of this time period, and although the CMA acquired the sculpture in good faith, we have concluded that, due to these war events that took place many decades earlier, the correct course of action is to transfer the sculpture to Libya,” Mesek said.

The Roman or Greek Hellenistic basalt statue, described by the museum as a “fascinating combination of old and new,” was created during Egypt’s Ptolemaic period, the final and longest era in the history of the ancient empire. The work, which measures just under two feet tall, represents a man dressed in a shirt, shawl and wrap skirt. The choice of clothing and the depiction of the figure’s natural hair are consistent with the period, but the striding posture and curvature of the subject’s body evoke older Egyptian sculptural traditions.

The announcement comes on the heels of a pending lawsuit over a $20 million antique sculpture at the CMA. Last fall, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office confiscated a Roman or Hellenistic bronze statue from around 150 BC. C. to 200 AD. C. of a “covered male figure,” as the museum had retitled the work. The CMA previously described the sculpture as a representation of a Roman emperor, probably Marcus Aurelius, suggesting that the artifact may have been looted from Bubo, Turkey, where a statue of Marcus Aurelius was torn from its pedestal, as the scholar explains. Elizabeth Marlowe in an opinion for Hyperallergic in 2022. Months later, the CMA sued the Manhattan district attorney’s office, a rarity in museum repatriation claims.

“Statue of a Man” will remain on display at the CMA for “several years,” although a specific timeline has not yet been set. The Chairman of the Libyan Department of Antiquities, Dr. Mohamed Faraj Mohamed al-Faloos, will travel to Cleveland to sign an official transfer agreement with CMA Director Dr. William M. Griswold. The two sides will “explore areas for future collaboration,” which could include an “academic exchange” and additional loans between the CMA and the North African nation.

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